Local News

Ex-husband: Army said dead soldier was AWOL

Posted June 25, 2008 4:38 a.m. EDT
Updated June 26, 2008 6:40 a.m. EDT

— Authorities on Wednesday were awaiting the results of an autopsy to determine the cause of death of a pregnant Fort Bragg soldier whose body was found last weekend at a Fayetteville motel.

Meanwhile, the woman's former husband said Wednesday that he was upset the Army considered her absent without leave and didn't bother to check on her.

Spc. Megan Lynn Touma, 23, was identified Tuesday. Officials found her body Saturday morning in a room at the Fairfield Inn on Morganton Road after guests complained of an odor coming from inside. She was seven months pregnant, police said.

The decomposed condition of her body has made it difficult to determine the cause of death, police said, so her body was sent to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill for an autopsy.

The Fayetteville Police Department called Touma's death suspicious. The department has been inundated with calls for information from media nationwide and has refused further comment until autopsy results come back or there are other developments in the case.

Fort Bragg officials said Touma was assigned to the base June 12. A dental specialist from Cold Spring, Ky., who had been in the Army for five years, she previously was assigned to Army dental clinics in Germany and at Fort Drum, N.Y., officials said.

"We were shocked," base spokeswoman Maj. Angela Funaro said Wednesday. "It's always sad when you lose a soldier, but on top of that, here's a beautiful, young woman – she was seven months pregnant. It's sad and deeply troubling.

"We want to find out what happened to her and make sure we and her family get all the answers that we can," Funaro said.

Fort Bragg officials said Wednesday they were investigating why Touma wasn't reported missing after she was absent from a formation.

The Army is cooperating with Fayetteville police, providing access to people to help establish a time line of Touma's whereabouts, she said.

She signed into Fort Bragg's 19th Replacement Company on June 12, at 2 a.m. and attended two required formations at 6:15 a.m. and 3 p.m. Touma was off the next day.

When she missed a formation June 16, she wasn't reported absent without leave after 24 hours, in accordance with Army regulations.

Funaro said the Army was investigating why the procedures weren't followed.

Touma was staying at the motel while she looked for off-base living quarters, Funaro said. It was unknown whether the room was registered in her name.

Her ex-husband, El Sayed Touma, lives in Charleston, S.C. He told WCSC-TV that he and Touma, whom he divorced in March 2007, had met at Fort Drum, in upstate New York, when both were stationed there.

They were married three years, Funaro said, but the stress of being in different countries led them to divorce.

El Sayed Touma said the Army had told Megan Touma's family that she was AWOL but that the family did not believe she would go AWOL and was worried because they had not heard from her recently.

“She was left in the room for two days, and the Army said she was AWOL. They didn't even bother to go check on her in the motel where she stayed. I mean the Army knows that she stayed in that hotel. They put her in that hotel,” El Sayed Touma said.

He has remarried, but he said he still loved his ex-wife and that she was going to name her baby after him.

Col. John W. Etzenbach, her commander in Germany, said she was "lighthearted" and had a good sense of humor. Touma was "ecstatic" about becoming a mother, he said.

Funaro said she thought Touma requested the assignment to Fort Bragg, but she wasn't aware of any relationships the soldier might have had with others in the area.

Touma's friends from Kentucky described her as outgoing and an avid runner. She was a cheerleader and a member of the cross country team in high school, they said.

"(She was) just a sweetheart, always full of energy," friend Connie Nelson told WKRC-TV, a CBS affiliate in Cincinnati. "I can't imagine anything terrible like this happening to Megan. She was an awfully good kid."

"She lived to run. She loved to run. She loved to meet people. She loved laughing. She'd just do anything to make anybody smile," friend Hope Hamlet told the station.

Touma was from a military family, friends said, and she enlisted shortly after graduating from high school.

She is the second pregnant service member to die under suspicious circumstances in North Carolina in recent months. Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach was found dead near Camp Lejeune in January. A fellow Marine, Cpl. Cesar Laurean, has been charged in her death and is awaiting extradition from Mexico.

The 19th Replacement Company, where Touma was assigned, has scheduled a private memorial service for Friday. The company is the first place that all soldiers report when they have been assigned to duty in XVIII Airborne Corps units at Fort Bragg, according to the Department of Defense's Military Homefront Web site.